Capito: Digital divide must close so students, small businesses can succeed

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Angus King, I-Maine, released a report Monday from the National Center for Education Statistics highlighting the pervasive use of computers as a learning tool for schoolwork, and the disadvantage it can pose for students from rural or low-income parts of the country if they lack necessary broadband access.

NCES, an entity within the U.S. Department of Education, addresses the importance of digital learning for students in the 21st century, and includes a review of strategies to help close the homework gap for school-age children lacking broadband access outside of the classroom.

According to a press release from Capito’s office, she pushed for the report to be required in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan education reform bill passed in 2015 curtailing the burdensome requirements of No Child Left Behind. The report also builds on the Digital Learning Equity Act, a bipartisan legislation the senators introduced to improve student access to the internet and close the digital divide.

Capito said according to the FCC, West Virginia is nearly in last place when it comes to broadband access.

“So when seven out of 10 teachers are assigning homework that requires the internet, our students are being left behind,” she said. “This report gives us more accurate information on how the homework gap is affecting students across the country, and it reemphasizes the need to increase access to rural broadband.

“We have to close the digital divide so our students, small businesses, and others can succeed.”

The report found in 2015, 80 percent of 8th graders across the country reported using a computer for schoolwork on a weekday. Further data in the report shows that students 5 to 17 years old were most likely to live in households that subscribe to fixed broadband if they live in suburbs and least likely if they live in rural areas.

Additionally, students 5 to 17 years old were least likely to live in households that subscribe to fixed broadband if they lived in lower-income households, and most likely if they lived in upper-income households.

The cost of broadband was tied for the top reason households cited for not having an internet subscription, the release reported. 

Section 9210 of ESSA, which was enacted in 2015 to reauthorize the federal law governing K-12 education, requires the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to publish a study on the education impact of access to digital learning resources—such as computers and broadband internet—outside of the classroom, in which Capito was one of the many who advocated for the inclusion of this section.

Capito reported to continue to support improvements to broadband and digital learning access through leadership of the Senate Broadband Caucus and House Rural Broadband Caucus and by advocating for improvements to related programs at the FCC, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Education.

By:  Jordan Nelson
Source: Beckley Register-Herald